[OPE-L:4505] In defence of simultaneous Marxism

Alan Freema (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 03:06:39 -0800 (PST)

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Seonjin [4492] writes

Do you think 'Simultaneous Marxism,' which you severely
criticized in your recent articles, can be classified as a kind
of Marxism? If so, you may think that it is meaningless to draw
a line between the real revolutionary Marxism and pseudo
Marxism. Is that right? In other words, you may agree with the
allegation of so-called postmodern Marxists that there exist
multiple Marxisms.

I think it is not so much meaningless as false. Guevara's
Marxism was not the same as Lenin's but both were
revolutionary. I think you cannot sustain a counterposition
between pseudo- and revolutionary Marxism.

Multiple Marxisms are surely a fact, not an allegation. They
are all authored by people with a claim to continuity with, or
allegiance to, Marx. I think the artificial construct 'pseudo-'
Marxism avoids the more difficult task of defining what kind of
Marxism each really is.

If I thought 'Simultaneous Marxism' was not a Marxism, I would
have called it something else, like 'simultaneous
ricardianism'. I give a precise definition of what it really
is, so as to have an honest debate with it, not to deny it a
place at the table before the debate begins.

Unlike Post-Modernism I do think differences between Marxisms
can be settled using objective criteria.

There are two debates between these Marxisms: how they relate
to the world, and *also* how they express Marx. To conduct
either debate we must recognise all Marxisms have a right to
exist, and this demands that none be accorded any a priori
authority to speak for Marx. We have to replace argument based
on authority - the neoclassical method - with argument based on
reason and evidence - the rational method. That includes reason
and evidence about how well each Marxism represents Marx.

The debate itself may be severe and critical. Even the most
severe and passionate criticism, however, is quite distinct
from exclusion, which is how 'official' Marxism treats its
rivals and what we would do if we defined any Marxism as a
priori not Marxist.

The real problem is to put a definitive end to the real source
of dogmatism which is the wholly doctrinaire claims advanced by
the official version of Marx. The official Marxism authorised
by neoclassical economics - dogmatically termed 'the' Marxian
theory of value to the exclusion of all others - is
inconsistent; from this it is deduced that *no* Marxism can be
right, that nothing emanating from Marx is worth considering.

This is more than a statement that Marx is 'merely' wrong; it
states he cannot possibly be right. It is an exclusion order.
For eighty years Marx has been excluded by orthodox economics
using a proof of 'inconsistency' based on its own Marxism.
This is utterly unacceptable. The whole of OPE should make it
its business to campaign to stop it. No collaboration between
Marxists is possible without this elementary democratic
guarantee of the right of each Marxism to exist and take part
in the debate. Every time it is violated, the discussion breaks

My response is to ask what this 'the' Marxian theory of value
really is: to define it accurately. Without knowing what it is,
I don't see how one can define its attributes, such as whether
it is revolutionary or not.

I don't think an adequate response to a claim to represent Marx
that is based in neoclassical dogma, is to assert a rival claim
to represent Marx based in another dogma. This does not escape
the origin of the whole problem which is the very notion that
Marx can only be understood through apostles. The next
generation would discuss not what Marx himself says, but what
Seonjin, or Alan, or Ajit, or Sraffa, say he says.

The point is IMO openly and clearly to acknowledge the true
nature of each interpretation. 'Sraffa's Marxism' is definitely
a Marxism, but is it however distinctively Sraffa's Marxism.
Walrasian Marxism, introduced by Bortkiewicz, is distinctively
Walrasian, as Bortkiewicz himself readily recognised.

As for our Marxism it is not, as recent debate would have it,
some personal creation known as 'K-M' Marxism but temporal,
sequential or successivist Marxism, an interpretation of Marx
subscribed to by at least twelve (mainly suppressed) writers
since 1980 which determines the magnitude of value from labour
time without the prior assumption of reproduction or
stationarity. We are quite content to subject our
interpretation of Marx to the test of rational debate based on
evidence provided only that our critics accord to us the same
right we accord to them, namely the right to exist.

'Official' Marxism, on which economics bases its right to
suppress Marx, is distinctively neoclassical. By this I mean
that it determines the magnitude of value from the magnitude of
use-value within a general equilibrium framework, and that the
definitions of price, value, profit and so on are given by this
framework. This is a legitimate exercise but it has to be named
correctly. It is neoclassical economics' attempt to understand
Marx. I think its correct scientific description is
Neoclassical Marxism. I think this is more accurate, and more
informative, than pseudo-Marxism.

This designation does not make the mistake of excluding this
interpretation a priori, in the same way that neoclassical
Marxism excludes all other Marxisms a priori. We cannot fight
suppression with suppression. Neoclassical Marxism is a
perfectly legitimate reading of Marx and should have the same
rights as all others. I think we need to learn from the
mistakes of the early 1980s when the Marxists attempted to
exclude surplus-approach economics from their discussions. This
doctrinal method of argument, Berlin Wall Marxism, merely
recreates a tiny imitation of the neoclassical world.

The 'pseudo' aspect of this debate is not that neoclassical
Marxism is not a Marxism; it is its claim to be the only
Marxism and its refusal to let its authority for this claim
be tested in debate. There is no process by which 'real'
Marxism - Marx's Marxism - can acquire a voice in the
discussion, because the ordinary reader is never allowed to
judge for her or himself but is always forced to accept the
authority of *another* as to what Marx really said without
subjecting this authority to independent or objective
verification. That IMO is what has to be overcome.